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The Great Beauty is a film of superlatives! Originally titled La Grande Bellezza, this movie by Italian star director Paolo Sorrentino is so replete with lush, opulent cinematography, it sometimes borders on sensory overload. Having won Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, as well as the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA award in the same category, The Great Beauty is also a critics' darling and an award-show sweeper – in addition to being hailed as Paolo Sorrentino's greatest work to date.

Essentially a tragicomedy, it is both a study and a celebration of the hedonism and decadence of its main protagonist – the bon-vivant and modern-day Roman socialite Jep Gambardella (played by an electrifying Toni Servillo). Instead of honing the craft of writing, Gambardella at some point decides to become the self-proclaimed “king of high life” of Rome. After his 65th birthday, he experiences a shock that changes him for good, prompting him to look past the parties and the nightclubs and to discover the sublime beauty of his hometown, the eternal city. In this way, The Great Beauty is a meditation on art, regret, and pleasure – and Sorrentino's love letter to Rome.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aldo Ralli, Alessia Bellotto, Anita Kravos, Anna Della Rosa, Annaluisa Capasa, Carlo Buccirosso, Carlo Verdone, Dario Cantarelli, Elisabetta Ventura, Fanny Ardant, Francesca Amodio, Francesca Golia, Franco Graziosi, Gabriella Belisario, Galatea Ranzi, Gianpiero Cognoli, Giorgia Ferrero, Giorgio Pasotti, Giovanna Vignola, Giulia Di Quilio, Giulia Maulucci, Giulia Rinallo, Giulio Brogi, Giusi Merli, Iaia Forte, Isabella Ferrari, Ivan Franěk, Leo Mantovani, Lillo Petrolo, Luca Marinelli, Luciano Virgilio, Ludovico Caldarera, Manuela Gatti, Margherita Cornali, Maria Laura Rondanini, Maria Lovetti, Massimo De Francovich, Massimo Popolizio, Melania Fiore, Mirko Frezza, Monica Piseddu, Pamela Villoresi, Paolo Mazzarelli, Piero Gimondo, Roberto Herlitzka, Sabrina Ferilli, Serena Grandi, Sonia Gessner, Stefania Barca, Stefano Fregni, Toni Servillo, Vernon Dobtcheff, Yohana Allen

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Rating: Not Rated

It’s a testament to Agnès Varda’s remarkable ability to glean so much raw beauty and truth from the world that this autobiographical documentary is such a rewarding watch, even for people unfamiliar with her. The Beaches finds the pioneering director in reflective mode as she looks back at her work and life, but her artistic impulses are by no means stagnant: she approaches the past with the same — if not more of the — generous candor and youthful spirit that colored her career.

It’s also a testament to Varda’s inimitable artistic touch that she turns a usually-bleak subject — mortality — into something this life-affirming. The Beaches was made when she was 81, aware of her own ticking clock and still nursing the decades-long loss of so many loved ones (chiefly, husband Jacques Demy). Just as her grief-stricken reflections don’t overwhelm the film with sadness, the whimsical impulses she indulges here — like constructing a beach on the street in front of her office — don’t blunt the sharpness of her candor. The overall effect is bittersweet and profoundly inspiring: as with the mirrors she places in front of the tide in the film's first scene, she’s showing us it’s possible to face the inescapable with a twinkle in your eye.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Agnès Varda, Gérard Depardieu, Harrison Ford, Jane Birkin, Mathieu Demy, Robert De Niro, Rosalie Varda

Director: Agnès Varda

Though the drag scene is alive and well today, Paris is Burning is an important reminder that it didn’t always used to be that way. Over the course of seven years, Director Jennie Livingston leads us underneath the crime-ridden streets of 80s New York, where a glittery drag subculture is flourishing, despite all odds. Leading the community are the so-called mothers, the best performers and most fashionable of them all, tasked with inspiring and caring for newcomers. Nevermind that they’re shunned by society and suffocated (sometimes literally) by hateful homophobes and racists; when there is a ball, all that matters is that they strut, dance, and put on the best damn show of their lives. What they do is art, and Livingston makes sure to exalt the craft and pride that goes into it. At the same time, intimate interviews with iconic queens like Pepper LaBeija and Willi Ninja reveal the heartbreaking nature of the community. Most, if not all, have endured some form of abuse, and many risk their lives to earn a decent living. But again, Livingston refuses to reduce them to pure tragedy; she gets them to share their wonderfully big dreams, then gets us to hope along with them that they might just come true.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dorian Corey, Kim Pendavis, Octavia St. Laurent, Pepper LaBeija, Sol Williams Pendavis, Venus Xtravaganza, Willi Ninja

Director: Jennie Livingston

Rating: R

Called a masterpiece by many and featured on many best-of-the-21st-century lists, Director Wong Kar-wei has created a thing of singular beauty. Every frame is an artwork (painted, as it were, with help of cinematographer Christopher Doyle) in this meticulously and beautifully crafted film about the unrequited love of two people renting adjacent rooms in 1960s Hong Kong. These two people, played by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, struggle to stay true to their values rather than give in to their desires, while they both suspect their spouses of extramarital activities. The flawless acting, stunning visuals, and dream-like beauty of In the Mood for Love perfectly captures the melancholy of repressed emotions and unfulfilled love. The cello motif of Shigeru Umebayashi's main theme will haunt you long after you finished watching.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Chan Man-Lei, Charles de Gaulle, Cheung Tung-cho, Chin Tsi-Ang, Joe Cheung, Joe Cheung Tung-Cho, Julien Carbon, Kelly Lai Chen, Laurent Courtiaud, Maggie Cheung, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Mama Hung, Paulyn Sun, Ping Lam Siu, Rebecca Pan, Roy Cheung, Siu Ping-lam, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tsi-Ang Chin

Director: Wong Kar-wai

Rating: PG

Thirty years after its release, the first ever Chinese language Palme d’Or winner has finally been made more accessible through Criterion Channel through its uncut 4K restoration. Farewell My Concubine is one of those classical epics that is considered essential viewing, but even with its near 3 hour runtime, the film still holds up all these decades later with its startlingly heartrending love story and depiction of the tumultuous shifts of 20th century China. Director Chen Kaige masterfully balances both sides, tapping into the pain Dieyi (Leslie Chung) chooses as he clings to the classical opera, the very art form that allows him a sliver of his unrequited love to be realized, but that is also limited depending on whichever government is in charge at the moment. It’s possibly one of the most beautiful and most miserable films ever made.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Dan Li, David Wu, Fei Zhenxiang, Ge You, Gong Li, Huang Lei, Jiang Wenli, Lei Han, Leslie Cheung, Li Dan, Lu Qi, Shen Huifen, Yang Lixin, Yin Zhi, Ying Da, Zhang Fengyi, Zhi Yitong

Director: Chen Kaige

Rating: R

, 1997

Cure is about a mad society, where both cure and sickness might be one and the same. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa subverts the police procedural into an interrogation without definite answers, an abstract study on the evil that resides and is suppressed in every person’s heart. Unlike most horror films, Cure’s scares are left in plain sight, hypnotically mesmerizing as they are gruesome, with a sense of mundanity associated with other Japanese masters like Ozu or Kore-eda. “At the time it just seemed the right thing to do,” a man answers when asked why he killed his wife, and it is this contradictorily calm, nonchalant demeanor that creates a feeling of unease in the film’s horror aesthetic.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Akira Otaka, Anna Nakagawa, Denden, Hajime Tanimoto, Kōji Yakusho, Makoto Kakeda, Makoto Togashi, Masahiro Toda, Masato Hagiwara, Misayo Haruki, Ren Osugi, Shôgo Suzuki, Shun Nakayama, Taijirō Tamura, Takeshi Mikami, Taro Suwa, Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Yoriko Dōguchi, Yukijiro Hotaru

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Wong Kar-wai’s dreamlike masterpiece is a perfect portrayal of the wilderness of a city at night. A hitman trying to get his job done, a woman hunting the prostitute who stole her boyfriend, and a mute who loves his father's cooking: each of the characters in Fallen Angels is eccentric and interesting in their own way. Along the watch, you may find yourself overwhelmed by all the events taking place as each character fights to stay alive and satisfy their desire, but this is exactly where the beauty lies. A hazy view of Hong Kong is the backdrop for the characters' riveting stories, blending loneliness, lust, as well as missed opportunities. Fallen Angels is a remarkably balanced film that not only exposes the coldness of people in the city, but also their warmth.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Benz Kong, Benz Kong To-Hoi, Chan Fai-Hung, Chan Man-Lei, Chan Siu-Wah, Charlie Yeung, Choi Kwok-Keung, Choi Kwok-Ping, Chow Gam-Kong, Johnnie Kong, Karen Mok, Karen Mok Man-Wai, Kwan Lee-Na, Lee Tat-Chiu, Leon Lai, Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Toru Saito, Wong Kwan-Hong

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: R

, 2000

Edward Yang’s masterful and lush Yi Yi follows the lives of the Jian family and their respective, middle-class worries. The father agonizes over a business deal and, at the back of his mind, an old flame. The mother struggles with emptiness, the daughter with sensuality, and the son with his burgeoning artistry. In the periphery are other family members trying to get by as best they can despite having no certain future to look forward to. The story, which is bookended with life and death, is punctuated with these lingering anxieties but also, crucially, with moments of potent, profound joys. 

The premise seems simple, but Yang weaves a breathtaking epic out of the mundane. The mise-en-scene is immersive, the dialogue delicate, and the direction effectively real. The understated elegance of each piece coming together to build a rich whole is what makes YiYi Yang’s legacy to the world of cinema.

Genre: Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: Adriene Lin, An-an Hsu, Chen Yiwen, Cheryl Yang, Danny Deng, Edward Yang, Elaine Jin, Hsi-Sheng Chen, Hsu Kuei-ying, Hsu Shu-Yuan, Issey Ogata, Jerry Sun, Jonathan Chang, Kai-Li Peng, Kate Yeung, Kelly Ko, Kelly Lee, Kenjiro Tsuda, Lawrence Ko, Leon Dai, Liang-Tso Liu, Luo Bei An, Ru-Yun Tang, Sharon Mao, Shau-Ching Sung, Shu-shen Hsiao, Shu-Yuan Hsu, Tang Ru-Yun, Tang Tsung Sheng, Tao Chuang Cheng, Wang Chi-tsan, Wu Nien-Jen, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Edward Yang

While billed as a “ramen western”, Tampopo satirizes plenty of other American genres, including, but not limited to: 1) the inspirational sports film, with Tampopo’s diligent training, 2) the erotic, arthouse drama through its egg yolk kiss, 3) the witty, social comedy pointing out the absurd in dinnertime tables, and 4) the melodramatic mafia romance with its room-serviced hotel getaway. But the film doesn’t buckle under the weight of carrying all these genres– instead, the customer vignettes are all delicately plated to balance out the hearty journey of a store owner learning about ramen and the bemused, yet cohesive contemplation about food. Tampopo is one of a kind.

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Akio Tanaka, Chōei Takahashi, Fukumi Kuroda, Gō Awazu, Hideji Ōtaki, Hisashi Igawa, Hitoshi Takagi, Hyōe Enoki, Isao Hashizume, Izumi Hara, Ken Watanabe, Kenso Kato, Kinzō Sakura, Kōji Yakusho, Mariko Okada, Masahiko Tsugawa, Naritoshi Hayashi, Nobuko Miyamoto, Nobuo Nakamura, Rikiya Yasuoka, Ryutaro Otomo, Toshimune Kato, Toshiya Fujita, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Yoriko Dōguchi, Yoshi Katō, Zenpaku Kato

Director: Jūzō Itami

Rating: NR

The Iranian director Jafar Panahi has faced constant persecution from his country's government for over a decade, for his career of sharply political films speaking truth to power. In fact, No Bears—which was shot in secret, in defiance of the government banning him from filmmaking for 20 years—had its initial festival run in 2022 while Panahi was in prison. Evidence of Panahi's drive to keep making his movies, no matter what, are clear in this film's limited resources and occasionally inconsistent video quality. But even those obstacles can't get in the way of his vaulting ambition.

No Bears operates on several different layers that all express Panahi's growing frustration with—but also his commitment to—making art that only ever seems to put himself and other people in harm's way. At its base level, this is a suspenseful small-town thriller, as an exiled Jafar Panahi (playing himself) tries to evade suspicion from the villagers around him. At the same time, Jafar is struggling to direct a film remotely, which creates a strain on his production crew. On top of that, the characters in his film undergo their own drama, seeking asylum out of Turkey. All of this is edited together under a stirring screenplay written with heart, humor, and the hope that the institutions that try to scare us will never keep us in the dark forever.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Jafar Panahi, Mina Kavani, Narges Delaram, Naser Hashemi

Director: Jafar Panahi

The apex of Abbas Kiarostami’s monumental filmography, Close-Up is a testament to the late directors’ ingenuity and humanism. Kiarostami documents the real-life trial of a man who impersonated fellow Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and ingratiated himself to a family believing him to be the real deal. The courtroom drama and interviews are fascinating enough, but Kiarostami takes it one step further by having everyone involved reenact the events as they happened.

The result is an unparalleled piece of filmmaking that blurs the boundaries between documentary and narrative while posing vital questions about the exclusivity of cinema and the storytelling process. Despite its sophisticated constructions, Kiarostami’s direction is lucid and direct as it builds to a passionate and unforgettable conclusion.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Abbas Kiarostami, Hossain Farazmand, Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Monoochehr Ahankhah

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

At nearly four hours long, A Brighter Summer Day is a sprawling, beautifully composed film that follows young Xiao Si’r and his eventual entanglements in nearly everything, from love to youth gangs to politics. While parts of the story, particularly its bone-chilling climax, are based on true events, the film is largely reconstructed from Edward Yang’s memories of the era he grew up in. As a result, the visuals feel crisp and true, tinged with just the right amount of nostalgia to balance the grittiness of its realism. 

As coming-of-age films go, A Brighter Summer Day is certainly more on the tragic side. It’s also seminal in its specificity and depth—an absolute must-watch for any and all filmgoers. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alex Yang, Chang Chen, Chang Han, Chang Kuo-chu, Chen Chang, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Chen Yiwen, Chiang Hsiu-Chiung, Chin Tsai, Chuan Wang, Danny Deng, Dao Nan Wang, Elaine Jin, Emily Y. Chang, Feng Guoqiang, Han Chang, Hsi-Sheng Chen, Hsu Ming, Joyce Ni Shu-Chun, King Shih-Chieh, Kuo-Chu Chang, Lang Tsu-Yun, Lawrence Ko, Liang-Tso Liu, Lisa Yang, Ni Shu-Chun, Ru-Yun Tang, Stephanie Lai, Tan Chih-Kang, Tang Ru-Yun, Tsu-Yun Lang, Wang Bosen, Wang Chi-tsan, Weiming Wang, Yi-Wen Chen

Director: Edward Yang

Rating: Not Rated

Éric Rohmer’s The Green Ray is the kind of film that you come away from being more honest with yourself. That effect is thanks to the contagious directness of its protagonist: Delphine (Marie Rivière), a newly single young French woman whose summer vacation plans have just been unceremoniously upturned after the friend she was going away with takes off with a man instead. Now at a loose end, the indecisive Delphine meanders between her home in Paris and several gorgeous holiday spots, but that old saying — “wherever you go, there you are” — proves true. Neither the beaches of Cherbourg and Biarritz nor the lofty beauty of an Alps resort can soothe her restlessness or give her what she’s looking for, probably because she doesn’t quite know what that is herself.

Delphine’s is an achingly familiar search for anyone who’s ever felt like they’ve drifted off of life’s path, but blessedly, the conversation-driven Green Ray doesn’t leave us wallowing in that despair. That’s partly thanks to its final moments — which rank among cinema’s most stunning — but mostly because Rivière, who improvised much of her incisive dialogue, puts into words things that so many have felt but few would admit. In that sense, The Green Ray feels as much like a miracle as its last shot does.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Béatrice Romand, Carita Holmström, María Luisa García, Marie Rivière, Rosette, Vincent Gauthier

Director: Éric Rohmer

Whilst a classic in some circles, Festen is many things, but it's definitely not mainstream entertainment. It was shot by Danish director, Thomas Vinterberg, who founded the Dogme 95 movement together with Lars von Trier in 1995, which sought to put the auteur director back at the heart of filmmaking, as opposed to the power of the studios or special effects. This was the first movie to come out from that group. You thought your family was messed up? Think again. This macabre, Poe-esque, gut-wrenching tale of debauchery will leave you feeling confused and slightly nauseous. This effect is exacerbated by Winterberg's directing style and the crazy camerawork of Anthony Dod Mantle. With a highly volatile tone and a great cast, the effect Festen has on you is not easily shaken off.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Birgitte Simonsen, Birthe Neumann, Bjarne Henriksen, Erna Boas, Gbatokai Dakinah, Helle Dolleris, Henning Moritzen, Klaus Bondam, Lars Brygmann, Lasse Lunderskov, Lene Laub Oksen, Linda Laursen, Paprika Steen, Therese Glahn, Thomas Bo Larsen, Thomas Vinterberg, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: R

In Drive My Car, a widowed artist travels to Hiroshima for his latest production. There he meets a young woman enlisted to drive him around the area. They forge an unexpected bond and soon share pithy observations and long-buried secrets, which culminate in a touching scene of catharsis and forgiveness.

Not a lot is said in this three-hour film, but when words (and signals) are shared, they are always underlaid with simple but transcendent truths. Drive My Car is a gripping film that explores love and loss in its own quiet way, at once intense and intimate.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahn Hwi-tae, Ahn Hwitae, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Hiroko Matsuda, Jin Dae-yeon, Masaki Okada, Park Yu-rim, Perry Dizon, Reika Kirishima, Ryo Iwase, Satoko Abe, Shoichiro Tanigawa, Sonia Yuan, Toko Miura, Toshiaki Inomata

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Rating: Unrated